Friday, June 06, 2008

Calvin Graychase: One Year Later

One year ago today, I lost my sweet Calvin, my Little Bug, my guy. It still hurts too much to spend time dwelling on it today, but I do want to share a couple of things.

First, I want to say publicly that without my friend Dan, I wouldn't have made it through all the assorted and sundry traumas of last spring and summer, most especially Calvin's death.

Second, while I ache every day for Calvin and I still miss him so profoundly, it hurts less now than it did a year ago. Time heals, if you let it.

I have learned that grief is best when not contained. As horrible as it is, holding it back is like forcing poison to stay in your gut when really, the best thing to do is to get through the awful vomiting part so you can begin to recover. Grief isn't meant to stay still or to stay inside. When the floods of grief came, I let them take me. I sobbed until I drooled and coughed and collapsed on the floor. My body was literally wracked with grief, contorted and thrashing. I cramped, I caved, I cried.

But, by doing this, the torrent of grief passed through. I did not fight it.

Each time it comes--now in smaller waves, rather than full out floods--I let it wash through. I feel it, open to its flow, and then it passes. I don't fight it, dam it, try to surf on top of it, or pretend it isn't there. I open my arms and close my eyes and let it splash me in the face and take me wherever it will go. It is awful and it is necessary. It makes things better in the end.

The big flood came just after he died, and it did its work. Just as flood plains are the most fertile soil for growing, so became my heart after the worst of grief had passed.

Since Calvin left, I have found love, both in my work life and in my romantic life--and also in my internal life. I can see now that I was loved in a constant, unbreakable fashion since the moment I became me--in other words, always. I saw one day in yoga that there is a thin, immutable thread connecting me from the moment I was created to this moment today, and that it will continue on, as long as I am being. This is true for all of us. And it does not come from our parents or our friends or other humans--or even cats. It is a fact of our existence that we are infinitely loved, that we are all entitled to this love and given it freely, constantly, no matter what. It is permanent, irrevocable, and unconditional. It is Love, the love that is Ever, the love that is Life, the Love that connects all living things.

I have this comfort now, always. It was something that my mother tried to tell me once, but I wasn't ready yet to understand. But, since losing Calvin, I have found this: I used to suffer greatly because I believed I wasn't loved and couldn't ever be lovable. There was so much evidence to support this fact--it was overwhelming. But now I know that no matter what the other humans do, no matter who can see me and who can't, no matter who comes and who goes, no matter who hurts me or abandons me or leaves me alone, I am still loved and worth loving.

And, just as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, my love begets love. Since learning that I am infinitely loved and lovable, I have found work that sustains me. Work that I look forward to doing every day. Work that enables me to reap the rewards that come with prosperity--peace of mind, enjoyment, safety, the ability to give to the causes and people I care for, power and agency, and more.

I have found a partner, a loving companion (who, by the way does not like being called a "partner,") who does so many of the things I always wished someone would do. He gives me a place to return to, a chest to rest my weary head upon. We laugh. We do crosswords. We love.

We have spent nearly 24 hours a day together for six months and only grown happier and more interested and content. We struggle and we learn and we grow and we keep getting better. I bring to this relationship a more honest me, a more compassionate me, because when we know we are loved we can be more generous, both with ourselves and with others. And he loves me for my authenticity. He comes with me as I flow and grow and I love him for this.

It is, for me, a dream come true. I have good company, affection, and laughter. When I have a migraine, he sees it on my face before I think to tell him, and he brings me an ice pack and a glass of water and some Tylenol. He says, "What do you need?" and he means it. When I am hungry and sick, he cooks. I like taking care of him, too. We are partners, whether he likes the word or not. :-)

As for the more literal garden in my life, Calvin's memorial garden is flourishing. The tulips I planted for him in the fall came up this spring--the first ones to bloom in the whole Valley, I think, and they were gorgeous and long-lasting and tall. And today, just as the anniversary of his passing arrives, the first roses are blooming on the bush I planted for him, a gift from my friend Becky.

There are dozens of violets with heart-shaped leaves and very special lilies, which I splurged on in his memory. They all survived the winter and they will bloom later this summer and fill the air with the sweetest scent I know. His lilac tree is in its infancy, but growing up nice and strong. The lupine--my favorite wild flower--are thriving. I planted them from seed just after Calvin died and they have sprung up tiny, but everywhere. The one I planted from a starter has grown tremendously and flowered out in ten giant stems. The peonies, the mums, the lillies of the valley, the daisies, the day lilies--all of it, everything made it. Everything is living and growing. I am fighting back the invasive weeds and relishing every single green and lovely day with these flowers planted in his name.

I even stuck some lettuce in his garden this spring. If it does well, I'll have a little Calvin Memorial Salad later on this summer. It seems the soil here is just as fertile as the metaphorical plains I found inside myself after the floods had come on through.

Eventually, we will have to leave here--this place does not make us happy and I cannot manage a life here for much longer. I'm struggling with the idea of leaving Calvin's garden behind. But, for now, at least, I am committed to making it as beautiful and perpetual as possible, just like my love for little Cal.

On the day that I had to take him in and let him go, I prayed for the strength to fulfill the promise I made to him, to end the seizures and the suffering that day and let him pass out of his sick body and go on. It felt an impossible task as he lay curled up and resting, purring. I needed to be more brave and more strong than I ever thought possible.

When I prayed, I got an instant response. It was the word, "Beauty." It hovered in the air above me all the while that I was gathering up my courage. It enabled me to change my clothes and gather up my beautiful Calvin in my arms. I focused on that word, that feeling during the ride to the vet...and it was what I saw and felt while I held him as they stopped his heart. It was Beauty that enabled me to carry his body home, which felt so different without him in it, and lay him to rest.

His garden is about preserving and honoring and continuing to see and feel Beauty. Last year I was too injured to maintain it, but this year, despite my continually aching knee, I can bend and walk and stand enough to be there a little bit every day. And that's kind of what life is about, I suppose. We are all hobbled and limited by various injuries to our bodies and our souls, we have all suffered losses so great they threatened to shut us down, but if we can find a way to tend to our gardens, to find a few moments to really care for and nourish or at least take a moment to recognize Beauty in our days, then perhaps we are doing okay.

Because I have to leave Calvin and his garden behind eventually, I love it as much as I can while I have it. I love it consistently, ferociously, fully; I love it even when I can't lay hands on it; I love it even though it's work; I love it even though it is flawed. I spend as much time as I can looking at it, so that when it is gone, I will always remember how it looked and felt and smelled, how it grew and changed and became more and more beautiful each day. In other words, I love it just like I loved Calvin.

I am making a memorial donation in Calvin's name to the Helping Paws fund at Northampton Veterinary Clinic. If you would like to join me--or offer something in the name of a companion animal that you have loved--you can send them a check made out to the clinic. Write Helping Paws fund in the memo field, and Calvin's (or another animal's) name.

With love and roses,


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